Monday, December 31, 2012

My Teacher Story: Part 1

Ten years ago I was a freshman in college.  If someone had told me then where I would be now, I would have never believed it.  I had absolutely no intention to become a high school math teacher teaching special needs kids at a vocational school.  Ten years ago that probably would have sounded like a complete and absolute nightmare to me, yet here I am...completely in love with my job.

I decided in elementary school that I wanted to be a teacher and never changed my mind about that.  I wanted to be a very different type of teacher though- elementary school art.  This makes me laugh because now that sounds like a nightmare to me.  No offense to anyone that does that, I just know for certain that it is not for me.  I started college still on this track though.

I went to school an elementary ed/art major.  During scheduling I actually had my college advisor tell me that I scored extremely well on my math placement exam and being an art/ed major I wouldn't have to worry about taking any math classes for awhile.  HA!  It took one art class fall semester for me to realize I did not want to do that.  So spring semester I took general ed classes while I figured it out.  Long story, but I ended up at math (obviously).  At my college we had to double major in our subject area, which meant a significant amount of math classes.  Since I was basically starting this from scratch sophomore year, I was behind on both my math and science requirements and was told I was probably going to have to go an extra year.  I was determined to make sure that didn't happen though so it took a lot of work and many special approvals on my course loads, but I did it.

Now on the elementary ed part, I realized pretty quickly that wasn't for me either.  I wasn't sure enough though to completely make the switch to secondary ed.  I actually remember having a friend who was secondary ed tell me many times that I should make the switch and I always told him no way.  Each field work placement though, I kept going older and older.

In the summertime I worked at a summer camp.  After my freshman year I worked with first graders and thought they were just great.  They were adorable and so cute.  After my sophomore year, I got moved to the middle school section.  I was NOT happy at all.  I actually recall wanting to find a new summer job.  Honestly I think I was intimidated because I had no experience with kids of this age, and let's be honest...middle school kids do not have a great reputation.  Well I ended up loving it about a million times more than the second graders.  I seriously fell in love with the age group.

So when I went back to school in the fall, I had a more clear idea of what I wanted to do.  Middle school math for sure.  This was a little tricky with my elementary ed major though, because while the elementary certification used to be K-8, it had recently changed to K-5.  Awesome.  No one was quite sure whether or not I would be able to get certified for middle school with the courses I had taken, but they did let me do the rest of my field work in middle schools.

I did my semester of student teaching in a 7th grade math classroom and had a phenomenal experience. I loved it and was sure that's where I wanted to be.

It turned out though that my elementary certification would not be enough to teach middle school, so I was going to have to take an additional Praxis test to get my middle school certification.  The supervisor at the school I student taught at suggested that instead of getting my middle school certification, I take the next level test and get certified K-12.  Since I had taken plenty of math classes (thanks to my college requirement to double major) I had all the necessary math credits.  I am still very thankful for this suggestion, because I would not have had the idea to do this on my own.  I knew that I never wanted to teach high school, but I did figure that it was better to be over certified.

Luckily for me, the school I student taught at was hiring and thus began my teaching career.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Ideas

Every time I'm off of school for any period of time I spend a bunch of time planning stuff to do when we go back.  And consequently I end up excited to go back to school and try out all of the great new ideas I've come up with and/or found.  This break is no exception.

So here's a bunch of completely random stuff that I'm excited about.

I've never done this before, but I've heard of lots of classes that have and it sounds great.  I signed up for a three week trial that starts next week so I'm going try it out myself first and then make decisions about if/how to use it with my kids.  If anyone has any experience with this I would love to hear your input on it.

I took a trip into NYC to check out the new Museum of Mathematics which was very cool.  It had some really interesting things that I thought were cool.

Printing activities that require graphing right onto graph paper.  Why haven't I thought of this before? 

A bunch of pattern/function activities that will require many toothpicks.  And printed on graph paper.

 awesome new website,  I seriously couldn't have come across this at a more perfect time.  Project happening with this next week.

Standards based grading due to tons of amazing help from @algebrainiac.  I finally got a chance to check out her algebra 1 skills list and it too, couldn't have been more perfect for what I needed.  Very excited to finally give this a try along with about a million other awesome things she sent me :)

TONS of flooring free samples I got from Home Depot.  Very excited about this one, more to come.

Things were getting stale before break and kids were getting bored, so I'm glad to have the time off this week to actually put together all these new ideas.  My hope is for them to be interested, I'm bored of being boring.  I plan to hit the ground running next Wednesday with a bunch of stuff, and I'm quite looking forward to it.  Now the only question is how to actually fit everything in.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The craziness has started

So with all of my happy, positive "I love my kids" posts lately I thought I'd balance things out.  They drove me nuts today.  Maybe it's just a case of the pre-winter break crazies, but it's the most irritated I've been all year with them.

It started out with a new class that I have of freshman that just wouldn't stop talking.  I was patient, and didn't yell but regardless of how many times I asked them to refocus they just wouldn't.  With about 15 minutes left in the period some of them tried to start packing up.  I was not pleased.  Eventually I had to take a time out at my desk to prevent myself from yelling at them.  They didn't get it.  I asked them if this how they behaved in all of their classes and they said yes.  That made me even more irritated.  I started on the whole speech of how I don't really care how they behave in other classes, I never expect to have this happen again and all that.  Blah, blah, blah.  I don't think they cared.  One kid in particular, however, I had last year and I commented to him quietly that I thought his behavior was so extremely disrespectful and I expected so much better of him.  He actually felt bad and focused for the rest of the period.

The next period that came in is actually my favorite period but my mood was already ruined so I just wasn't in the mood to deal with more behavior issues.  Without going into detail, they just pushed me over the edge with about 5 minutes left in the period.  Like so livid I couldn't even talk to them.  Unlike my freshman though, they know me well enough to realize what was going on and it made them very nervous.  For the most part they calmed down and just stayed away from me.

One kid came to talk to me about what was wrong and try to help ease my frustration.  He apologized sincerely for the things he had done that bothered me and promised they won't happen again (we'll see about that).  He assured me that he had an incredible amount of respect for me and told me how much he really did appreciate all the things I am doing for him.  He totally talked to me the same way I would talk with a kid that I was trying to calm down.  I always get a kick out of it when they do that.

He must have really felt bad and/or cared because he also stayed to talk to/warn my next period class that they really needed to behave for me.  I was certainly ready for the day to be over.

So yeah...most days my kids are awesome.  Today, not so much.  It happens.

Only 3 more days...

Direct Variations

This week I taught direct variations to my algebra class.  I think that this is an idea that is so simple, yet ends up being so confusing to kids (which is my fault).  I used to teach this section the way the textbok did, but it just made it all so confusing with the terminology and examples and they way they had it set up.  So a couple years ago instead of copious notes that ended up being a total waste, I broke it down into this chart.  It seems to do a bit of a better job of simplifying the idea.

Then this year I was talking with another teacher who wondered why we call the rate of change "k" in a direct variation and then "m" in the next chapter for linear equations.  Duh..why didn't I think of this?  For a kid that is already confused with math and using letters, we shouldn't be changing up letters like that when it's really the same idea.  So I nixed the k this year and just stuck with y = mx as the equation.

So my ISN pages look like this:

Below is the notes chart.  I printed it double sided at about 75% size so it fit in the notebook nicely.

Below is the file I used for the sorting activity.  One half page for each student.

some things about the sorting activity:
  • I didn't realize that I had 3x - y = 0 was on there twice until a student pointed it out
  • I realized too late that all three tables were direct variations so in the file I changed one of them to make it not
  • in the future I think I would also like to add graphs in there too
So that is all.  Overall they actually seemed to really get the idea of what a direct variation means so I'm happy.

In other news...
I know I'm late to the game here, but I finally picked up one of these tonight from Home Depot to make my own storage drawers like I've seen all over blogs and pinterest.
Home Depot Storage Container
It's probably a little sad how excited I am to organize supplies into these little drawers and make labels. I'm sure I'll share when I do.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Solving Equations Odds & Ends

This week will be the end of my solving equations independent study unit.  Since this was a new idea for me, much of what happened during the unit was created as we went.  These are a couple aspects that either I haven't explained before, are new, or address questions that people have asked.  Overall I really enjoyed this unit a lot and would definitely do it again.

Small Group Table
Until recently, this small round table was being used as my teaching table.  My projector was on it and it was in the middle of the room.  When my wall mounted projector was installed I didn't need it there anymore though.  So I moved the rug over there, put the table on it and pulled up a bunch of chairs creating our extra help table.  

Some days I was having trouble getting around to help each student that needed me so instead I station myself at this table and call them over to me in small groups.  Sometimes all of the kids will be working on different things and I'll just help one at a time.  When I feel that they're good to work on their own I'll send them back and let someone else take the seat.  Other times I'll call up a group of kids all working on the same skill and will give a mini-lesson/activity to all of them.  The kids really seem to be liking going to sit over at the table with me.  One afternoon I had two kids beginning to work on combining like terms and then three other kids spoke up that they were also stuck there so they came over too.  Instead of doing the worksheets I had them work on a paper cutting activity and dry erase boards to practice/learn the skill.  They enjoyed it and it worked really well.  If I'm still at my desk after a few minutes into the period kids will ask if we can go over to the table yet, or sometimes they'll just go sit there and call me over.

Mini Lessons and Activities
Originally the practice/check/quiz system was working out well because none of the concepts were really new.  As kids reached topics that were new however, they needed some instruction.  I started by just explaining the problems to the kids individually but felt that I could be doing better.  So what ended up happening was small group mini lessons and activities.

When kids got to combining like terms I worked in a small group on a paper cutting activity that I've used before and really like.  I had pre-prepared strips of paper ready at the round table.  I would give the kids an expression and they would write it out big on the paper.  They would then physically cut the paper apart and rearrange it, grouping like terms together.  Then they would add up each group.  For the activity I'd have them go through enough examples until I felt that they had the hang of it and then transition to doing the same thing on paper.

When kids got to special case equations I had them complete my scale activity.  Then I had them complete four problems (two one regular ones, one identity, and one no solution) and would then relate their answers to the scale activity to demonstrate the meaning of the identity and no solution and how they are different from a regular equation.

ISN Notes
When I put out the notes for the topics I wasn't 100% sure what my intention was.  I do know however that I need to keep things organized and uniform so I wasn't ok with each kid creating different numbered pages.  Instead I had them all title a set of pages "Solving Equations" and decide what needed to go there.  If a kid started with one step equations they put in the one-step equation notes, and then the two-step notes right underneath (taping it so it flips like a book), three step right underneath that and so on.  For kids that started at multi-step equations, those would be the only notes they had on that page.  

This is an example of a kid that took the notes for one, two, and three step equations:

Someone that started on two step equations might only have the two and three step notes.

The "notes" are just a sample problem with the steps written out.  As far as knowing what to write, they would just borrow my notebook where I had all of them done and taped one right on top of the other.  For kids where this wasn't enough, I would work through it with them.

This way, everyone in the class still has the same numbered pages called solving equations, but they only have what they need on those pages.

These are what I gave out:

Wrapping it all up
At the beginning of last week I mentioned that I'd like to finish up within a couple days and the kids protested.  I said ok.  If they want to keep working and they're being productive, I'll certainly let them go for it.  This week though will be the end of it.  All of my kids are not going to be done though.  The kids that are still working are the ones that at this point need more of my attention.  So what I plan to do  is set up a good amount of extra help time and have them come in specific groups.  I'll invite kids (like 4 of them) that are in the same place to all come on the same day and work through it.  I told them up front that my goal of this whole thing was for all kids to end up with a perfect grade because it'll mean they have mastered the skills.  This is still my goal.  I want to continue pulling them in for extra help until they have all finished all of the sections.  I will continue this all the way until the last day of the marking period if need be because knowing how to solve equations is non-negotiable.  

I also don't plan to accept laziness or apathy.  If they don't want to come or make the effort then I will make them.  Instead of giving them zeros and saying, "oh well, you never came to make it up" I will  go get them and escort them to my room if need be.  Failure is not an option with me and I mean it. 

Overall, I think that my favorite part of all of this was how well I got to know my kids.  I had no idea how smart some of them were and how quickly they were able to move through the levels.  They had been doing well in my class before, but I didn't know just quite what they were capable of.  On the other side of things, I also know my struggling kids so much better too.  I know EXACTLY what they are doing and where they are making mistakes so I am able to help them focus themselves better on what to work on.  I think that all of this is extremely valuable information to have if I want to be able to help them.

A couple people have commented that they have used my idea to do something similar in their classrooms.  If so, I would absolutely love to hear details! 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Learning how to learn

One of my absolute favorite things about teaching is watching kids learn something.  And by learn I do NOT mean taking tests.  I'm so over tests actually.  I don't want to give them anymore, or grades really...but that's a whole other story for another time.  I mean actually being able to watch a kid do something that they weren't able to do before.  And it's the coolest thing ever when I know for a fact that I helped to make that change.

I've been working really really hard all week with my student I talked about on Monday.  When I have a kid that is having serious trouble I think it's extremely important to think about the why.  What exactly is going on with that kid?  Where exactly is the disconnect happening?  For awhile I've been watching this kid. And I try to watch everything because it's all clues into what's going on.

This kid in particular hates math.  Hate may not even be a strong enough word honestly.  It makes him visibly angry.  When he does math alone I can literally watch the anger build up and it kills me because I think he's such a great kid.  I noticed awhile ago that he gets less angry though when I'm near him.  When I'm at his table he'll talk through the problem to me, checking if each step is correct.  But what I noticed was that I wasn't really helping all that much.  He would start an equation and say, "so I add 2x to both sides..right?" and I would say, "uh huh."  Or he'd make a mistake and say, "so now I subtract 2?" and I would say, "say that again...what was that?" "I subtract 2..oh no wait, I add."  I wasn't giving him answers or steps, he was figuring them all out on his own.  I would eventually tell him that he was doing great all on his own and then I'd move on to another table.  As soon I was gone he'd forget what to do and make mistakes get angry again.  By the end of the period he'd be so angry that even a normal conversation was a lost cause.

I was discussing this with another teacher because I thought it was so interesting.  Why could he do it when I was near him but not when I walked away?  I wasn't really even helping him.  She said he sounded like an auditory learner.  Duh!  Why didn't I think of that?

So I started to watch the kid keeping that in mind.  When he looks at problems and tries to process them in his head he freezes.  The longer he sits there, the more I can visibly watch the frustration build. I almost went about it like an experiment.  I would let him try and then eventually just ask something simple like, "what are you thinking?" or "what do you think the first step might be?" and when I got him talking all of a sudden he would remember.  I would start him talking and then just stay quiet, but in the area.  So he thought he was talking to me, but really he was just talking himself through the problem.  I also tried to keep watch of other non-math related things and how he goes about solving problems.  He talks and is very very good at explaining things that he is knowledgeable about.

So I shared this with him.  I told him about the things that I had noticed and that I had a suspicion that he was an auditory learner, which meant that he processes things best when he hears them.  He agreed that he is really good at remembering things that he hears.  The next day I pulled up a website that I had found and just had him read through the following list to see if anything sounded familiar:

Look over these traits to see if they sound familiar to you. You may be an auditory learner if you are someone who:

  • Likes to read to self out loud.
  • Is not afraid to speak in class.
  • Likes oral reports.
  • Is good at explaining.
  • Remembers names.
  • Notices sound effects in movies.
  • Enjoys music.
  • Is good at grammar and foreign language.
  • Reads slowly.
  • Follows spoken directions well.
  • Can't keep quiet for long periods.
  • Enjoys acting, being on stage.
  • Is good in study groups.
Surprise, surprise..he said that actually sounded exactly like him.  So for the next couple days I spent a lot of time working with him and paying extra attention to getting him to talk himself through problems.  I also made sure to make him aware of this.  I would point out to him when he talked himself through something.

And then today something so cool happened.  During class the kid sat down and attempted the work along with everyone else.  He called me over for the first one just to check that he understood what to do correctly.  He did.  So for the next couple ones I stood in the vicinity so he could feel like he was talking to me (even though he wasn't because I was doing nothing).  He was doing -2 squared in a problem and I heard him talk it through and end up at the right answer.  (The majority of the class did -2^2 in their calculator and got it wrong)  Eventually I walked away.  I looked over though and he was reasoning through the problems by himself out loud!  He took what I had told him and used it to help himself.  It was soooo cool to see.  And to know that I did that.  And get this...the kid that usually struggles did the best in the class.  Better than kids that usually do much better.  I actually ended up using his as the answer key because he finished first and with no mistakes.

I told him that next week I'd actually like to do a little experiment.  I want to have him take a test under regular testing circumstances (quietly) and then have him retake the same test talking.  I don't know what will happen, but he agreed so I'm really looking forward to seeing what how it goes.

The thing is though that so many kids genuinely do not know how their own brains work and we really have to help them.  They NEED to know themselves and understand how they work.  I really think that teaching is not just about delivering a lesson.  Witnessing learning is not about having them get a good grade on a test.  Witnessing learning is watching that kid understand how he processes information and use it to his advantage.  It's watching him use my suggestion to do something he's never done before and have it actually work.  This week he learned how to learn and that's cool.

We need to know how to make learning happen and in order to do this we need to know how their brains work.  I feel like this type of help can be SO much more valuable than any math help I could ever give.  How cool is it to be able to give the tools to help themselves??  To watch a kid be able to do something they thought they couldn't do and know that I helped to do that??  Sure it takes a ridiculous amount of time and effort and dedication, but's just about coolest thing in the world in my opinion.  It's really my favorite part of the job.

I also told him that I don't plan to give up on him...and that can be pretty powerful too.  He told me that he had already given up, so it didn't really matter all that much.  I just smiled and said oh well, because I still have no intention of giving up him and that's that.  I told him I'm just crazy like that so he'll just have to deal with it.  I also know for a fact that this kid will put forth more effort for me than anyone else because he knows that I'm willing to put forth effort for him.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I suck today

Pardon me for a minute while I vent...
I feel like I suck today.

When kids in my class don't learn I take it personally.  I take it as a sign that I'm not doing everything I can.  I feel like I'm not doing a good job of explaining and making things clear or that I'm not making the concept simple enough.  And I'm not talking about the kids that are lazy or irresponsible.  I'm talking about the ones that really just don't get it.  The ones that no matter how many times I explain it, there's still just something not clicking for them.  The ones that try so hard to go through the motions of what I'm saying but are still making mistakes because they don't really get it.  They sit there with me wearing a look of uncertainty, a look I know well by now.  And I just want SO badly to help these kids to understand it.  I watch them get frustrated and when they say they just aren't smart it breaks my heart.  Every. single. time.  I go home and it's all I can think about.  I try to research ways to reach different types of learners in the hopes that I'll find the answer or some new strategy to try.  I look through remediation programs and different hands on activities to try.  I think and think and think about where the disconnect might be and how to make things click.  I think about how great these kids are and how all I want is for them to not be frustrated anymore.  And when I try and try and try and it still doesn't work for them it makes me sad and feel like I'm not doing my job.  I should be helping these kids make sense of things and I can't.  I'm trying and it's just not working.  I don't think my job is to just stand up in front of a room and deliver a lesson to those that want to listen.  My job is to make sure that my kids understand math.  Every single one of them, no matter what or how long it takes.  And when they don't get it I don't blame them, I blame myself.  It think means I'm not doing a good enough job and it feels like I'm failing them.  I know I probably shouldn't take it so personally, but I just can't help it.

So today I feel like I suck.  But I have a plan for tomorrow and some more new things to try so I guess that's all I can do right now.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Teaching Functions

I taught functions this week and have to say I was actualy shocked at how well it went.  I think I've probably taught this same textbook section like 7 times now and it's never gone so well.  Sometimes a simple analogy can really work wonders.

When introducing functions I always relate them to a machine. Specifically a toaster...I'm not sure why.  I ask them what happens when you put bread into the toaster. You get out toast, duh. I ask if you'll ever get out eggs?  Nope. We decide that there's certainly something wrong with that toaster if you're getting out eggs.

Then we took a look at this beautiful function machine I drew on the iPad...told them it's my math machine.  For the most part, they're all familiar with function machines like this. I've always used this analogy but I've never really taken it so far and I think that's what made the difference.  This time we stuck with the actual function machine to help give them something to relate to.

I wrote the numbers one at a time. 2 then 10, 3 then 15, 10 then 50.  Asked what the machine is doing and they said times 5 so I wrote it in there. 

Same thing with the second machine. 

When I got the third one though I started the same way...5 then 8, 7 then 10, 3 then 6...they yelled out plus 3...but when I wrote 5 then 9 next they said they couldn't do it and the machine must be broken.  We discussed that the (5,8) and (5,9) pairs were the ones that let us know the machine was broken.

In the next machine I put 1 in twice but it came out to be the same answer every time so all was well.

For the last one, they said at first they thought it was broken because they didn't know the rule, but then we talked about how sometimes we won't be able to find the rule but that's ok.  Nothing about the number pairs indicated the machine was broken so everything was ok.  We just called it "not broken" and moved on.

As far as notes I also took a different route this year and I have the ISN to thank for that because it helps me to streamline the idea that I'm trying to get across. In the past I've split the notes into four sections: from points, from a table, from a mapping diagram, and from a graph.  I decided it felt like too much.  Especially since I've always thought that points, tables, and mapping diagrams are all pretty much the same information.

So instead I decided to just go simpler.  Also I wrote most of the notes out for them.  I think class time is better spent doing practice than sitting and copying down what I have on the board.  So I did some explaining and they ran through the examples.  This is where I feel like it's never gone better.  The broken/not broken analogy worked so well they flew through them.  They actually asked if they could write broken/not broken instead of function/not a function.  I said no, but said they could write it in parentheses.

The "from a graph" section required a little more explaining, but once I put estimated coordintes on the one graph and showed them why it was "broken" they got it.  The explanation on the vertical line test I got from Sarah at mathequalslove and the function/not a function sorting activity (which I assigned for homework) came from Math Tales from the Spring.

The next day we worked on evaluating functions in function notation and it went equally as well (which was also a pleasant surprise). I decided to stick with the function machine analogy since it worked well the day before.

So for f(x) = 3x + 4, we drew a little function machine in their notebook to show what it meant. 

When we did f(x) = x^2 and g(x) = x + 1 we just drew two machines and called one f and the other g.  I told them that the letter just let us know which machine to put the number in.  Even composite functions went well.  Sweet.

All in all the function machine idea may seem a little elmentary, but if it helps them make sense of the idea does it really matter?  None of them are drawing machines when doing the problems but it really seemed to help them understand the idea which I was very happy with.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Feeling the love

I feel very loved today.

Project "decorate Ms. Rubin's room" continued today.  While I was teaching first period (my 9th graders) a boy came in to ask about snowflakes that he was making to hang from the ceiling.  He wanted to know which ones I preferred and how low to hang them.  I naturally told him I loved them both and totally trust his judgement on what he thought was best.

While he was asking I heard some whispers in my class that they couldn't believe my students were making all this stuff for me.  They said that they must really love me.  I don't think they thought I heard their whispering. ;)

The next period is my prep so the boy came back to put up the snowflakes.  While he was there, another bunch of boys came in with the shelf they had been working on to go in the back of my room.  

This is the before:

And this is the after:

Is that amazing or what??  The boxes on there are V-math which is an math intervention program for a class that I'm teaching.  Until today they were all sitting in boxes because I had no place to put them.  This shelf is just perfect to hold them all.  And I love the counter on top.  It was a bit of a dead space back there until now and I hate wasted space.

But gets better...

How awesome is that?  I never want to leave my classroom.  It's so cool in there. :)

What's even more awesome though is that some of my kids feel the same way.  My kids are starting to stop by every morning to check in and say hello to me.  When they leave other classes to go to the bathroom they pop their heads in to see what I'm up to.  When they hear that I got something new in the room they want to come by and see it.  When they have free periods where they're not doing anything they come to my room.  If I'm teaching a class they sit in on it.  It's much easier to teach them and get them to do work when they actually want to be there.

Today a kid came to my room instead of going to lunch and sat down at a table.  Honestly as long as it's not distracting anyone I'm cool with this.  I went over and asked if he just didn't feel like going to lunch and he said yeah.  But then get this, he told me that he had some work to do so he would just do that instead. This kid skipped lunch to sit in my room and do extra math work??!  Crazy.

I have another kid that came in on Monday instead of going to lunch just to sit.  I carried on with class as usual and told him he was welcome to stay.  I had a few jobs I needed done (like cleaning some stuff) so I asked if he wanted to do that.  He said he didn't really want to which was perfectly ok.  I didn't ask any questions and let him be.  At the end of the day I found out that he was having a lot of problems going on at home and things were really getting to him.  I'm really glad to be able to offer him a place where he feels welcome and where he knows he can just sit and not answer any questions if he doesn't feel like it. It also makes me happy because I know he isn't off doing something dumb like cutting school or roaming the halls...instead he's sitting through an extra math class.

Then to top it all off I found out that a kid that realllly struggles with math went to my principal to tell him how much he likes me as a teacher and how he wishes more of his teachers taught like me. How sweet is that?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Safari Animals

You know what every good holiday display needs?  Safari animals.  Yep, bet that's not what you were thinking.  Be forewarned, this is the most random post ever.

Yesterday a kid arrives in my room before class starts with about 20 plastic safari animals which he then empties out onto his desk one by one.  Then him and two other boys naturally begin to play with said animals (note: these boys are 16 and 17 years old).

hey I'm just happy they took out their math stuff before they took out the animals

After like a minute of that the animals began to migrate around my room in order to blend in.  Gotta love that after acquiring many plastic toys the kids think to decorate my room with them- I think my love of decorations is wearing off on them.

Now trust me, they were doing work while this was going on.  It's just that I understand that for some of them in particular 45 minutes of sitting in a chair doing work is too much for them to handle.  So as long as they are busy doing good work for the majority of the period I'm ok with them strategically placing animals around as a room is usually a very laid back place unless they cross the line.

I also have a strange sense of humor I guess because I find this hilarious.  Especially because all day today I kept finding them in the most random places and would start laughing every time.

So while this may look like a simply holiday display here, I assure you it's not.

We have a monkey climbing the Christmas tree...

 These guys hanging out with the snowman...

as well as these two...

a shark train swimming up the candy cane...

and all these characters hanging out around the curse jar...

and this creepy guy is hiding out in the back keeping watch from atop my back board.

But the better part is all of the ones I didn't find until today.  This morning I stood on a chair to adjust some things on my (new!) wall mounted projector and came across this guy and his friend.

And keeping watch from my computer is this fellow and his pet hippo.

At the end of the day (just when I thought I had found them all) I went to glance at the thermostat and lo and behold...

The best part, however, is that they move.  So yesterday the armadillo and this really looking scary guy (ram maybe?) have relocated from the bookcase to the Christmas tree on my desk.

Yeah I warned you this was a random post.  But apparently my kids and I have the same weird sense of humor which makes for fun days for us all.

In other news: tons of great math stuff has been going on too...we did a distance, rate, time lab today that I'll probably post about soon :)

Monday, December 3, 2012

I got a table!

So remember how my kids are awesome?  Yeah well they really are.  I was so excited to go to school today and when I got there I couldn't wait for my kids to arrive because I was pretty excited about things that were happening.  How often does that happen on a Monday morning??

Until Monday, my corner of the room looked like this:

And here's a closeup of my desk area.

It worked alright.  I even think now that it looks pretty in the pictures.  It was a little cramped back there though.  If someone was sitting in the chair at the desk there wasn't enough room to fit behind them.  Because of the cabinet and big TV overhead I also felt kinda like I was sitting in the dark.  If no one had said anything though, I would have been perfectly fine with the setup for the year.  My kids, however, offered to make it better.

So here's the back story...  In August, when setting up my room, I knew that I wanted an L-shaped desk area because it's what I'm used to and I like the space.  The room, however, didn't have the makings for an L-shaped desk.  So I decided to get creative and resourceful and build myself a table out of random pieces of wood that I found in my garage. That's the back part of my desk in the table above.  That tall cabinet didn't move (so I thought) so I built the table to fit in the space.  My table was not fantastic, but it worked just fine.

I had to build it in two pieces so it would fit in my car and also I was worried that if I built it all in one piece it wouldn't be that sturdy.  The top was also just pieces of wood sitting on top, not connected in any way.  Here's what it looked like underneath:

Fast forward to about a month ago.  I let slip to my carpentry kids that I built it and once they had a look at it they nearly doubled over laughing (which is totally ok with me- I can laugh at myself).  So for about a month they keep saying that they want to take it and fix it.  This is why I love them.  They weren't just laughing at me, they wanted to help me make it better.  This week it was more of, "Ok Miss...this is happening.  I'm taking your table tomorrow so you need to clean your stuff off of it."  Not the exact words, but that was the gist of it.  So Thursday was the day.

Table gone.  Desk a mess.

Three periods later the boy that was working on it came to show me pictures of how it was going so far and that it was almost done.  It was cool that he was excited and I think proud of it.

Later on we're talking about where it'll go and I mentioned that the tall cabinet won't move because it's stuck to the wall or something.  Again, I find out that I'm wrong.   So with some help, I moved that giant tall cabinet to the back of the room and it made such a HUGE difference.  It made the room feel so much bigger.

Second period today, this arrived:

I love it. Love love love.  It's a million times better than my table was.  The kid sat on it to demonstrate this fact.  The picture also can't express how awesomely it's sanded down on the top.  It's so so smooth. And it was handmade for me which makes it special.

Here's the before and after.

With the tall cabinet moved I was able to move up my desk a little bit and the extra space is just so lovely.  Also today the TV in top corner was taken out.  With that and the cabinet gone I no longer feel like I'm hiding in a dark corner.  I actually feel like I'm in the same room as everyone else.  I know it might sound like I'm crazy, but even a little bit of extra space makes the room feel like an entirely different place.  This stuff excites me way more than I can explain..I blame HGTV.

The rug is also on the other side of the room for the time being.  I'm not sure where it's going to end up.  For now though, the kids are all coming up with things to hang on this new empty wall that we have.  I think I should let them decide so it's more of "our room" than "my room."  They really like to be a part of the decision making process.

Here's another picture just because I want to.

I think that my other project should be arriving tomorrow and the kids that are making holiday decorations said they're going to be doing them tomorrow.  Yet again, I can't wait for tomorrow.  :)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My kids are awesome

Just a heads up: this post has nothing constructive or useful or math related.  Just some gushing over how great my kids are because it's been on my mind all week.  Feel free to go read something else if that's not your thing.

So I think my kids this year are awesome.  Like really awesome.  A lot.  They are so funny and talented and interesting people.  They are helpful and they respect me.  They don't really like school or doing work and they drive me crazy fairly often but I still think they're awesome (most of them at least).  My classes are very small too so I already feel like I know each of them quite well.

I especially love it when my kids are smarter than I am and these kids are way smarter than me.  I teach at a vocational school so my kids are doing such cool stuff.  They think that I'm a big dork when I gush over how cool the stuff is that they're doing.  Actually I'm pretty sure they might think I'm just a big dork in general.  On Thursday a girl told me that I'm so weird because I take crafty to whole new level.  I totally take this as a compliment. :)

On Tuesday a kid asked to go to the bathroom and came back with a little shelf.  Said he made it in class and I could have it "because he really didn't need it."  It's in the picture on the right on the middle shelf.  Well I was thrilledddd.  I clearly love organization and I was so excited to have something that a student had made.  I'm new to the school so for all I know kids make things for teachers all the time, but it's still awesome to me.

The kids saw how excited I got and then my carpentry kids said that it was no big deal and they could really build me anything I want. Seriously that is like a dream come true.  I watch a lot of HGTV.  So much so that I've convinced myself that I could take on any home project myself.  In all honestly though, I probably can't.  So instead I just dream up ideas of stuff I'd like to make and now my kids are offering to make any of it happen.  I really can't even put into words how crazy awesome this is to me.  Of course I'm not going to take advantage of the fact and have them build me tons of stuff, but just that they could and would is enough.  (Maybe if I get some ideas here or there though they can help me out)

So this shelf turned into a class conversation of ways they could all contribute to amping up our classroom and making things I can use, they are still also laughing at how excited I got.  I can't even wait until next week to see everything happen that they're working on.

A couple of the projects involve furniture that they are building, things of mine they are fixing, and holiday decorations that they are making out of various materials (wood, sheet metal, pvc pipe, things that light up, etc).  They also helped me come up with a change in furniture layout that I'm so psyched about.  They're seriously so smart and creative.

I think it's so fun that they are all coming up with ideas for stuff to do and ways they can contribute. I'm totally letting them run with it.  I told them that I trust them and whatever decisions they decide to go with.  It just means a lot to me that they are spending their class time working on things for me.

So yeah, my kids are awesome.  That's all.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Honesty is the best policy

On Wednesday I had to leave my last period class 4 minutes early to go to a meeting while another teacher covered my class.  I came back after the meeting and a picture of a girl that had been hanging on my back board was gone. I was livid.  It wasn't about the picture itself, it was the fact that I left for literally 4 minutes and someone took something from my room.  I think that is so disrespectful and I take it personally.  I also knew exactly who took it.

So the next morning I found a kid from the class who I knew would know what had happened and asked him who took it.  He claimed he had no idea (lie).  While talking to him, two other kids that I also have walked up and asked what was up.  I explained to them what happened and that I was not happy. One of them that was in the class also claimed to have no idea (also a lie).

The other one who is not in the class got a look of disgust on his face and said just said it was so stupid that someone would do that.  I love this.  It means that kid respects me enough to not tolerate other kids being rude to me. Kids frequently stand up for each other so when they start standing up for me instead it makes me feel like I'm doing something right.

I had thought that the other kids felt the same way, but apparently not.  So during the guilty class I had the "I'm so disappointed talk" with them.  Told them that standing up for someone that did something wrong also means that they don't have enough respect for me to do the right thing.  Told them that taking something from my room is something I take personally.  Said that if anyone knew anything I would appreciate knowing what had happened or to have the picture returned.  Told them that above all else, I value honesty.

The rest of the period was spent quiet, with no joking around, and all privileges/leniency taken away. Tables were turned to rows.  They were not allowed to talk to anyone around them.  I still helped them with their work and was super nice (even to the guilty kid- he was really confused and I sat with him for a bit and worked through things slowly and being very nice), but that was all.  I did not laugh with them or joke around like usual.  Things were business only.  Very formal.

This conversation only works when the kids care about me.  When they don't want to disappoint me.  When they really respect me and my class.  If they don't, the conversation will mean nothing to them.  They'll walk out of the room and laugh about it.  They won't feel bad at all.

At the end of the period as all the kids left, one kid stayed back to tell me what happened.  He asked me not to say that he had say anything, which I never would do.  I was very happy that he told me, but I was still disappointed that the rest of the kids didn't.  The next morning a couple of them tried to joke around with me like we usually do and I didn't joke back.  I asked if they had anything to talk to me about and they said no.  I just shook my head and said I was really disappointed to hear that, I thought they respected me more and walked into my room.  Within 5 minutes them and a couple other kids were in my room offering to get the picture back because it was right outside the window.  They said that after school yesterday they were all talking and decided that they should get it back for me.  They also told me who did it.

Now a couple things.  I knew exactly who took it and never expected him to admit it, apologize or to return the picture.  I also knew exactly which kids were covering for him.  Those kids were the ones that I was aiming for.  No one was punished, and I didn't take it any further.  The picture was returned to its spot and I carried on with the day as if nothing had ever happened.  The guilty kid, however, knows that the other kids aren't going to cover for him.  The picture sitting on the board now is a constant reminder of that.  My hope is that he'll be less likely to do something rude because the other kids respect me enough to think it's stupid, not funny.

A stolen picture may not seem like a huge deal (and it's not) but it's about picking your battles.  I chose this battle because I wanted to make it clear that I do not tolerate things in my room being stolen or damaged.  I put a lot of time and effort (and money) into my classroom so I want things to stay nice. Kids pretty much have free reign over everything in my room (they even sit at my desk from time to time) so I need to be able to trust them, which I do.  All in all, this made me very happy with my kids.  I really respect that they came to me and did the right thing and I really appreciate knowing that they will stand up for me.  Most of all, it makes me happy that things are this way after only one marking period, it makes me look forward to the next three.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Equation Solving

Hey remember this?  Well I started it with two more periods and I am loving it soooo much for about a million reasons.

If you recall, these were the skills I'm focusing on:

I started out with one period that I knew could handle the independent structure.  This week I started it with two other periods and was really skeptical, but I thought I'd give it a shot.  Well yet again, I'm glad I did because it's going even better than it is with the class I started it out in.

My plan for the two classes (which are a little lower) was to have them to up to C and then do a lesson/activity on D&E before moving on and the same before starting F&G.  What happened instead was SO awesome.  After passing the C quiz, kids grabbed D and started to work on their own.  They had some idea so they would try, but ultimately end up asking me for help.  Same thing with E.  So what is happening is that each kid is getting pretty much one-on-one lessons once they are ready.  It's working so well.  Many of my kids have attention issues so they zone out really easily during whole class lessons.  The individual lessons are more like tutoring and it is just working wonders.

When kids take quizzes they are psyched instead of being frustrated.  They are so excited when they pass a level that they have been stuck on.  When they hand in their quizzes they beg me to grade them immediately because they are so excited to see how they did.  They working independently and checking their own answers.  They are looking at old quizzes and finding their own mistakes.  They are asking for help because they know that they aren't going to pass the level without learning the skill.  Failing isn't an option, it just means try again.  Every single kid is working on something that is at their own level and it is somehow not at all chaos.

All I am doing (during class) is giving out quizzes and working with kids individually.

I had a kid that took the one step equation quiz and got a 2/4.  He went over what he did and fixed it and then asked me if he could be done because now it was a 4/4.  I told him that he had do another practice set, retake the quiz and pass it all on his own.  He whined a lot while he was doing all of this.  The next day he finished his practice, took the quiz and told me I had to grade it right now because he knew it was good (love the confidence).  I told him he got them all correct and he high fived me.  He then told me that he really likes this kind of learning.

I've actually had a few kids say that they think this is a good way to learn.  Might not sound like a huge deal, but I consider this very high praise coming from these kids.

In other news- I have finally earned enough respect from my kids to be able to have the, "I'm really disappointed and take your disrespectfulness personally" conversation with them and actually have it work.  Score.

I also have a handful of kids that are making me awesome presents and acting like it's no big deal.  And when I say awesome, I mean like way more awesome than target gift cards as presents.  That's a big deal.  Double score.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Union Beach (part 2)

If you haven't already- read part 1.

Tuesday morning we fueled the kids up with donuts, bagels and coffee and headed down to the beach in our best work clothes.

The reaction of the kids as we drove through the destruction was indescribable.  Let's just say it's a good thing I didn't bring the curse jar ;)  They had seen tons of pictures and videos but it didn't come close to doing it justice.  Being there and seeing it in person made it real (for me too).  And their reactions were not that it was was that it was so sad.  16 and 17 year old boys that spend their days doing construction were staring out the windows saying how sad it was.

When we got there we split into two groups.  One group stayed at the donation and food center set up at the firehouse and the other group went out into the field to get dirty.  (sidenote: my school is a vocational school so many of the kids spend a good part of their day doing construction/carpentry type work meaning that they are used to and very good at working with their hands)

The volunteer efforts there were being run by a group of people that had traveled from all over the country (some from california!) and have been staying in tents for the past two weeks which was unbelievable.  They were all so friendly and grateful for the help.

ABC news was there the day before us and aired this:

GROUP 1 (at firehouse)
We started out with a short orientation tour from the woman that seemed to be overseeing the site. She was amazing.  They had the area set up into different parts, everything was so organized and running so smoothly.  Myself and one other teacher stayed with the kids here.

One group of about 5 kids stayed up front sorting coats that had been donated.  They separated the jackets into men's and women's piles, folded them, and laid them out into piles.  As people came to look they also talked with them and helped them to find what they were looking for.  At one point I walked over and a couple of my native spanish speaking students were helping out a family all in spanish.

This picture below shows the area where people in need came to take food and home items.
To the right there was an area that had clothing.

Three other girls were sweeping the entire area to make sure everything was nice and clean.

Two girls were in a food tent with another woman that was volunteering and together they made 100 bagged lunches to distribute.  These girls were fantastic because when I told them that we were going to go eat lunch they told me that they needed some more time because they needed to finish.

Another four students were chopping potatoes to be used to make home fries.  I thought this was amazing because when I found them, there was a man from the group in charge helping them.  He was on the other side of the table working with them and giving them chopping lessons.  I was thrilled to find this and catch it on video.  This guy was great because he was talking and joking with the kids the whole time.

What was perhaps my favorite part though was that no one was just standing around.  When they finished up with a particular job they didn't stand around, they talked with the woman in charge and found something else to do.  When cars pulled up with donations, the kids in the area all went over to help carry bags.  When cars kept trying to park in the donation drop off zone, they made a sign to clear things up.  

When I told them we needed to go meet up with the other half of the group for lunch, they told me they didn't want to leave.

GROUP 2 (work site)

I stayed with the first group, so admittedly I don't know quite the details of what happened with the second group.  The three other teachers and the rest of the kids went with some of the guys that were helping clean to a couple different sites.  Before getting off the bus the guy in charge gave them clear directions on what to do and what not to do.  He told them that he was their foreman and they were to listen to him on what to do.  These kids couldn't wait to get off the bus and get their hands on stuff.

I think that this group especially got a very powerful lesson (even though they may not realize it just yet).  They truly got the idea of how big a job it is going to be to restore these towns.  It isn't just a matter of putting up a new house, there is first the huge task of cleaning out the unbelievable amount of debris that is everywhere.  And they got to be a part of that.

The kids were not doing quite as dangerous work as they are in the video, but these are a couple of the guys that they worked with.

Below are a couple of the sites they worked at.

Around the middle of the day we all came back together for lunch.  Next to one of the worksites was a small park right on the water.  It turns out that even 16 and 17 year old boys will bicker over who gets to go on the swings.

After lunch we all took a walk around the town.  The original plan had been to split into smaller groups for this, but we all ended up together.  The kids were just so great.  They were probably tired from working all morning so maybe that helped, but I also think they were in awe.  It's one thing to see pictures, but being there was surreal.

Between everyone that was there we have hundreds of pictures, so here's just a few to get an idea of what it looks like:

As we walked through the street we also encountered homeowners.  One man that we came across was standing where his home used to be.  This was his basement:

He started talking about the storm from his point of view.  All 38 kids gathered around him and were dead silent listening to him talk (they've certainly never been that quiet for me!).  I have that on video too and even after he stopped talking they stayed quiet.  He talked about where some of his belongings ended up and told them about the man cave he used to have in his basement.  This was another thing that we couldn't have planned better if we tried.

Something else that was really cool was that the film student I have recorded the entire day.  He said that he plans to use all his footage to create a documentary later in the year in class.  He interviewed the teachers and all the kids on the bus on the way there.  When we got there he interviewed the volunteers from San Francisco, the other local volunteers and captured the whole operation in both photos and videos.  He recorded the town and the wreckage and the kids working.  He interviewed homeowners about their experiences.  I think he said he got a good three hours worth of footage, in addition to pictures he took.  I really can't wait to see what he puts together.

Overall, I was so very impressed by how appropriately the kids behaved.  They truly rose to the occasion. When they were working, every single one of them was completely engaged and giving it their all. When they were not working (which is usually where things take a bad turn) they were completely engaged in everything around them.  They just wanted to see every single thing they could.  Every kid there learned that even though they are just kids, they can do something to help.

That evening, my school hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for people impacted by the storm and for the school community.  I stayed to help at the dinner and it was cute to see that every kid that came that had gone on the trip just looked like they were dead.  I was by the door and they would walk in and just give me a look that said they were beat.  As I was leaving one of my freshman girls came up, gave me a hug and sincerely thanked me for letting her come.  She said it really meant a lot to her to be able to see everything and be able to help.  <3